From the Archives : The Ogboni

Image

Members of the Ogboni Society near Onitsha, Nigeria

Photograph by Simon Ottenberg 1959-60
EEPA
2000-007-0973783/1959-1960
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

Renowned anthropologist, Dr Simon Ottenberg,  took this photograph in the Afikpo region of southeastern Nigeria during his 1959-1960 research. The original caption says, “The Ogboni Society coming from a meeting at Onitsha, the city on the Niger River, during a trip to visit Richard and Helen Henderson, conducting research in the old town at Onitsha. These were Igbo members of Ogboni, which is primarily a Yoruba society.”

The Ogboni society, also known as Oshugbo in the Egba and Ijebu areas of southwestern Nigeria, is an association of accomplished elders in parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.  Members perform a range of religious and political practices, including meting justice for crimes and disputes, installing and deposing kings, and overseeing burial rites. Ogboni members recognize the underground as a spiritual force that unites humankind and witnesses all wrongdoings. Ile, the deity or omniscient spiritual force of the underground, is central to Ogboni beliefs, art, and practices.

The Earth Matters exhibition includes both insignia of office and figures from the meeting house of a Yoruba Ogboni (or Oshugbo) society.  These edan (staffs or insignia of office) and onile (society figures) demonstrate the importance of concepts of the earth to Ogboni. In the ease with which their motifs can be identified, the figurative pair of copper alloy edan suggest the knowable world: male/female, old/young…  and yet beneath each figure is a non-descript iron shaft.  Made from an ore of the earth, these shafts allude to things we cannot know: the unknowable world of the divine and the underground.  Likewise, the terracotta onile figures are made of a material of the earth that alludes to the power and knowledge beyond mere mortal comprehension.

Guest Voices: Adejoke Tugbiyele

Todays guest post comes from fine artist Adejoke Tugbiyele. In 2013 Adejoke assisted world-renowned, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui with the installation of his sculpture “Ala”, in the Smithsonian Gardens.  As she prepares to show with artist Nnenna Okore at the Joburg Art Fair, Adejoke shares her experience working with El Anatsui in this week’s Guest Voices.

Working with El Anatsui

Working with El Anatsui was a dream come true.  It could not have felt any better to do so at The Smithsonian, National Museum of African Art. Before me stood, on the one hand, an artist whose reputation deems him an institution by himself, and on the other, an institution which promotes and preserves the legacy of artists like El Anatsui.  I do not come from a family of artists.  Like many children of Nigerian parents, I was encouraged to go into the medical field.  In fact, I went to college as a pharmacy major for two years right after high school. Clearly, that was not the role the universe intended for me.  I quit and eventually went on to study architecture.

Why is this significant?  It is significant because despite my telling him that I was graduate sculpture student at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), El kept introducing me to people as an architect. As any graduate student would, I showed him images of my work during one of our strolls through the Museum’s African art galleries, asking for a critique of some sort. A man of few words… he merely smiled.  Sure enough, and before I knew it, he was requesting detailed sketches and technical drawings of his pryamid installation for the Smithsonian Gardens. This task was not as easy at it sounds.  I often had to switch back and forth between a metric ruler to one in inches and feet, the latter being the system I’ve used most of my life here in the United States.  El didn’t care and remarked that our system in the U.S was “very colonial.”

ade

Adejoke Tugbiyele

Water Go Find Enemy (2013)

Perforated metal (woven), palm stems, brass wire and copper wire

During the installation we became short on the mirrored plexiglass that was used in the construction of El’s pyramid, a delicate material which was meant to be inserted underneath of sheets of cassava graters in pre-specified areas. I sketched out a rough estimate on paper of the total number of existing mirrors and those needed, and sent them to Anthony Stellaccio, the project manager for Earth Matters.  We corresponded back and forth and a decision was finally made on how many more mirrors to purchase.  I was glad that my experience in design and construction management came in handy in supporting Karen Milbourne (curator), Anthony, and their team at the Smithsonian.

Over time, it became apparent why El valued my help.  While installing the pyramid in Washington D.C, he was simultaneously preparing for two other exhibitions in Amsterdam and London respectively.  That London project recently won him the prestigious £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award for his work, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, 2013.  El took several breaks to his hotel room to manage the London project from D.C. and he must have anticipated that he would have to do the same in Amsterdam.  I was thrilled when he said I could join him in Amsterdam as his assistant (or architect, I suppose) to manage the installation at ArtZuid.  This was paid work, whereas at the Smithsonian I was one of the four or five volunteer assistants selected by Karen Milbourne.  I should also mention that the South African artist and one of the artists in Earth Matters, Ledelle Moe, initially recommended me to Karen.  Ledelle was a professor of Sculpture at MICA and gave me very inspiring critiques in my studio.

I can’t thank the Smithsonian Museum enough for the wonderful opportunity of working with El Anatsui.  The volunteer program is very special and one that I highly recommend graduate students should take advantage of.  The exhibition Earth Matters is genius in its selection of artworks that represent a continent whose land has, and will, always matter.

-Adejoke Tugbiyele

photo-2    NMAfA_EM_GardenProject-0410

Adejoke Tugbiyele and El Anatsui                                       Doug Johnston, Adejoke Tugbiyele and El Anatsui

NMAfA_EM_GardenProject-2345

El Anatsui (b. 1944, Ghana)

Ala, Site-specific installation, 2013

Adejoke Tugbiyele

Master of Fine Art, Sculpture (2013)

U.S. Fulbright Student Fellow (2013-14)

Website: www.AdejokeTugbiyele.com

From the Archives: The Aftermaths of Mining

Sluice boxes at Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria Ltd., a tin and columbite mining operation, Barakin Akaw, south of Jos, Nigeria. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959. EEPA EECL 13032 Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution

Sluice boxes at Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria Ltd., a tin and columbite mining operation, Barakin Akaw, south of Jos, Nigeria.
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1959.
EEPA EECL 13032
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

The massive scale of industrial mining on the African continent has, for the past several hundred years, yielded untold riches of natural resources while also leaving permanent scars on the landscapes (the deep recesses of the Kimberley Diamond Crater in South Africa, for instance). Whereas once the mysteries of the underground may have appeared limitless and suggestive of the powers of the ancestors, spirits, and divine, industrial mining turned them inside out and upside down. Increasingly, the underground has come to symbolize histories buried and resources lost.

Earth Matters explores how artists have dealt with this (literal) upheaval in great detail within the exhibition section, and book chapter, “Imagining the Underground.”  The scars of mining are ecological as well as ideological. The massive toll of mining has taken on the environment and the people who live in it is only beginning to be understood. The shear force of this change can be seen in this photograph by Eliot Eliofson, taken in 1959 in Nigeria at the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria, Ltd. Elisofson takes the viewer into the action as massive amounts of water pour through an artificial mining sluice used to draw out tin and columbite. At its peak in 1943, these mines on the Jos Plateau were producing over 15,000 tons of tin annually. The effect on the environment is becoming increasingly apparent, but has had lasting impacts.

African artists have not observed such degradation passively. Many have actively engaged with ideas of worldwide climate change, seek to protect the environment, and endeavor to bring awareness to their viewers.  Photographer David Goldblatt has tracked environmental change due to mining and dumping in his native South Africa, as well as elsewhere. His shocking image of blue asbestos fibers littering the ground, tailings dumped as byproducts is included in Earth Matters, is disturbing both for its beauty and its subject matter. Like Kentridge, George Osodi has created striking visual images but his photographs focus on the human consequences of mining. His unforgettable photograph, De Money series no. 1, depicts miners working under precarious circumstances at an illegal gold mine in Ghana.

The performance artist Nathalie Mba Bikoro makes the effects of mining deeply personal in her spellbinding performance The Uncomfortable Truth. In her performance at the National Museum of African Art (click on tab above to watch a video recording), Bikoro covered herself in gold leaf and dust, reminiscent of Osodiʼs image, while a screen behind her projected the names of her own family members who have been killed or gone missing as a result of violence and economic inequity in her native Gabon. Bikoro indeed reveals an uncomfortable truth: not only does the earth matter, people matter.

Guest Voices: Charles Okereke

Today’s guest post comes to us from photographer Charles Okereke. Based in Nigeria, Okereke’s world Once in a Blue World was featured in the Earth Matters exhibition. Charles was also feature earlier on our blog -https://earthmatters2013.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/earth-matters-around-the-web-charles-okereke/.

Now Okereke comes to us with his own words and meditations on his powerful and personal, world-conscious photographs. Be sure to visit Okereke’s blog for more works of art and news about this renowned photographer at charles-okereke.blogspot.com/.

Earth, a Dying World?  

by

Charles Okereke

 

The Earth was made as a dwelling place for all creatures, which also includes man.

Of all the creatures dwelling therein, Man is the destroyer when he was otherwise crowned with sovereignty. This arrogant attitude indicates an excess of self-worth, and has made man a plunderer rather than a nurturer.

Human beings are the only creatures that have set rules apart for themselves and refuse to conform to laws that guide creation’s movement and sustenance. Man is similarly the only creature that is out of tune with the eco-system and plagued with a one-sided narrow intellectual outlook.

What is sensed and termed as catastrophes globally today are but a retroactive consequence of a misalignment of the forces of nature – mankind so to speak, has dug its own grave, like dying Worlds.

Hdramhindra Blasted-2010 copy

Hdramhindra Blasted (2010)

This period of recompense will be felt globally in every facet of human endeavor, not only environmentally or climatically. But it will likewise reflect in socio-political affairs, which can already be surmised in the upheavals that are perennial occurrences today.

 

Man has been living in an exclusively selfish mentality, devoid of the understanding of the powers which he uses daily, ignoring nature’s principles and adjusting thereby. Economic affairs are collapsing; nations are in conflict, and there is uprising everywhere.

Dis-integration-2010 copy

Dis-integration Cameo (2010)

 

These are visible reverse processes, as the system has to automatically be put back into orderliness by eliminating the inferior and the destructive, be they man or animals, worlds and planets, landscapes and mountains, rivers and oceans, man against man, nations against nations, economic shifts and the rest of them – all these are manifestations of the activities of the Lords of the elements, which man sees as warfare in nature, and perceives one-sidedly as cruel in their manifestations and activities.

Untitled

Collapse of Andromeda Emperial (2011)

Even in routine designs, we know there is a designer with a purpose who strives to make his designs adaptable and useful to the original intention for its creation; how much more for an automatic pulsating life form like the Earth with her inherent regulatory system. Mankind can only learn by compulsion and   experiences in the coming years to adapt naturally.

My concern comes from the simple understanding that we are all connected and a part of the ecosystem, and by my sense of duty to maintain a healthy and natural world.

Saturn Anchored-2010 copy

Saturn Anchored (2010)

 

The work of the photographer of this generation becomes increasingly perilous as understanding narrows. As an artist, I use photography as a tool to highlight this observation and neglect, a state of inertia among the people and to bring about an awakening to consciousness, and of the need to be more proactive on issues that concern us as human beings.

Vasitha-2010 copy

Vasitha (2010)

My work speaks metaphorically, as I tend to perceive the images in a sort of tragic-comic innuendo, which if deduced based on surface perception will not reveal much, unless penetrated. I work as an artist not in a stark documentation of the assaulted environment, but from deductions which expose and interpret without being overly offensive or derogatory in presentation. I work to instigate a re-examining of hitherto traditional precepts which do not further, but hinder our species’ progress towards a healthy maturity.

Likewise, the Planetarium subseries, from my Unseen World series uses common objects littering my local environment to illustrate planets in stages of birth, development and disintegration – effects of the activities of the creatures dwelling therein. This places a grim picture before the people of earth illustrating the urgent need to care for Mother Earth and, perhaps, in this process, provide hope for a rebirth and rejuvenation.

Untitled

Count Down Versuvus (2011)

The fight for a readjustment to the natural order is a constant shift in the consciousness of mankind, as this period is declared a compelling time for obedience, and can never relent to the wills of men, but of a final culmination of purification, which will not cease until there is a change. More is yet to come that will silence man, until he learns the true principles of adaptation.

Untitled

Rebirth of Orpheus (2010)

In my immediate environment, I act more in the sense of an activist for a cause. My pronouncements and photography has marked me out as a crusader of sorts. But these are issues of intolerance which affect all regions, although it could be more heightened and perceived in some areas.

Paradise Utopia-2011 copy

Paradise Utopia (2011)

 

Hence I stand on my duty post armed with the potentials to perceive, deduce and freeze the moments through imagery.

By Charles Okereke, 2013

http://www.charles-okereke.blogspot.com

 

Featured Artist: George Osodi

George Osodi is today’s  featured artist. His work on the gold mining in Ghana and the extraction of oil  in the Niger Delta has reached an international audience, raising awareness of the harsh conditions that workers and the environment have to endure.

George Osodi  b. 1974, Nigeria De money series no. 1 2009 Fuji crystal archival print National Museum of African Art, museum purchase, 2011-16-1

George Osodi
b. 1974, Nigeria
De money series no. 1
2009
Fuji crystal archival print
National Museum of African Art, museum purchase, 2011-16-1

Visit the artist’s blog post for more information on the artist and recent projects that he is working on: http://georgeosodi.photoshelter.com/

CNN also did a feature on Osodi’s photography’s in a photo essay. Check it out here:  http://cnnphotos.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/26/putting-a-face-on-nigerias-paradise-lost/

Or read more about the Niger Delta and its prevailing devastation here:  http://www.goethe.de/ges/umw/prj/kuk/fot/oso/enindex.htm

More recently Aljazeera featured a documentary on George Osodi as part of their series Artscape titled “The New African Photography”. The documentary follows Osodi as he documents the destruction due to the oil spills  while also exploring Nigeria’s traditional Monarchs or kings.

Check out this link for more information on the making of the film: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/artscape/2013/04/2013421134016645276.html

Earth Matters Around the Web: Charles Okereke

Today’s post will feature Nigerian born artist Charles Okereke,  one of the artists featured on the Earth Matter’s exhibition.  Okereke  works with different media ranging from photography, video and  sculpture. He also writes, acts and directs plays and drama pieces.

Charles Okereke

Charles Okereke

Earth Matters features works from Okereke’s Canal People Series which you can view by visiting his blog at http://charles-okereke.blogspot.com/

Once a Blue World, from the Canal People series below is currently showing in Earth Matters.

Charles Okereke  b. 1966, Nigeria Once a Blue World, from the Canal People series 2009 (2013 exhibition print) Chromira print on archival paper 44.5 x 59.7 cm (17 1/2 x 23 ½ in.) Collection of the artist

Charles Okereke
b. 1966, Nigeria
Once a Blue World, from the Canal People series
2009 (2013 exhibition print)
Chromira print on archival paper
44.5 x 59.7 cm (17 1/2 x 23 ½ in.)
Collection of the artist

You can also find out more about this body of work in an interview with the artist here:

http://blog.leica-camera.com/photographers/interviews/charles-okereke-creating-awareness-with-art/

In 2009 Okereke joined the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographic Initiative, an artist -led project founded by Nigerian artists committed to affecting change in society. The video below traces the group of artists that participated in this project in 2011.

Visit the  Invisible  Border’s website  http://invisible-borders.com/ to learn more about the project

From the Archives: Photography’s role in shaping African identity

“Front view of Bolugun House, Lagos.”
Photographer unknown, c. 1877-1895
West African Photographic Album
EEPA 1995-170002
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution

In Earth Matters, an enigmatic photograph, dated 1898, is featured: attributed to the unknown “O. Vincenti,” and labeled “M’Suguma—Tänzer,” the silver-gelatin print depicts two men, probably Sukuma, based on their dress, stiffly posed and likely arranged by the photographer. They stand before a painted backdrop that is not only clearly artificial but its “jungle” theme appears to be at clear odds with the dry, dusty dirt below the feet of the two men.

This photography works to deliver a “factual” record of these two men that would be extrapolated to the Sukuma people as whole. Through the framing and background, the photographer has created a falsified image that appears, nonetheless, seamless and truthful.  In this way, the work brings up questions about the way that photography has worked to shape our understanding of the African people and landscape.

However, in this remarkable photograph from the Eliot Elisofon archives that dates c. 1877-1898, we see a more complete picture of the photographic process, not just the composed or constructed final product. A portable darkroom is visible in front of the building and to the left.  Such darkrooms were necessary for early photography, when wet, non-fixed plates would be exposed and preparation and development of the wet plates had to be done on-site. A crowd of people appears to rest, taking a break from the photographic process. A large camera would have been concealed within the black box. The umbrella lying in front of the crowd seems to indicate the use of a rudimentary flash.

Despite these clues, we can still only speculate as to what was going on in this scene, which was taken in Lagos, Nigeria – thousands of miles across the African continent from Tanzania. But the standing woman, second in from left, is distinctive in her dress and hairstyle, which has been identified as Ghanaian.  Perhaps the group was in the middle of a posed photography session, similar to that in O. Vincenti’s photograph of the Sukuma men in Earth Matters. No matter what event this photograph depicts, what becomes clear is the role that photography has played in creating and affirming our knowledge of faraway places or people, and sometimes perpetuating misconceptions or stereotypes. (For more information on photography in Africa, check out this post on stereoscopes’ role in shaping the international understanding of mining in South Africa).

Further, it is obvious that this history extends back much farther than we typically acknowledge, far beyond what may typically call the “modern” era for the arts of Africa. This camera’s presence challenges our notion of the “primitive” nature of 19th century Africa, and is a reminder that photographs, no matter where, when, or by whom they were taken, document choices and negotiations between the photographer and their subjects, rather than “facts.”